The ‘Bales Girls’ Are Making Dad Proud

After father’s death, daughters take over family plating shop.

On page 9 of this issue in our news section, you’re going to read about Stacey Bales and her sister, Sara Mortensen, of Downers Grove, Illinois receiving a business excellence award from a Chicago newspaper.

Stacey and Sara are owners of Bales Metal Surface Solutions, a firm they both grew up in since they were teens. Their dad, Steve, started it with his brother, Mike. Back then, Steve and Mike—who also owned a shop in Harlingen, Texas—were known as the ‘Bales Boys’ amongst those in the industry.

Stacey and Sara received the award on behalf of their company because of its tremendous growth, innovation, entrepreneurship and contribution to their community. Sales are up, the company has a new website that rivals any in the industry, and the work the company puts out takes a backseat to no one.

But behind the award and the smiles in their photo is story of gritty determination, periods of grief, savvy business skills, and an unstoppable work ethic.

 

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Stacey and Sara are owners of Bales Metal Surface Solutions

 

It started just before Thanksgiving in 2009, when Steve didn’t show up for work one morning at the shop in Texas. Stacey and Sara were told he had passed away, and just like that they lost both a father and their business owner. To Stacey and Sara, it was a double whammy.

“It was tough,” said Stacey, now president at Bales. “You just don’t expect that to happen. He was a young man at 53.”

Stacey had been working full time at Bales for several years, running the office and taking care of bills, invoices and everything else to do with the financial operations. She had worked at the plant since age 14, doing a little of everything and then helping her dad run the family business as she got older. Sara was doing part-time work, but she was raising her family and just had a daughter. When the news came about Steve, they quickly realized not only did they not have a firm succession plan, but Steve did not have a will or a trust in place for the business, which at the time employed 30 people.

Stacey and Sara grieved over Steve’s passing, but then they went to work to keep the business running. His brother Mike had long retired from the business, and they had a few other family members working in the shop. But they were Steve’s heirs, and now they were the owners of the shop.

“We were down for two days,” Stacey said. “But we needed to get going again.”

As if burying their father wasn’t difficult enough, they got attitude from a few people who worked with their father in the business, notably a banker who Stacey and Sara had known for many years. They went to see him shortly after the funeral to talk about terms of their business loans. “The first thing he asked me was, ‘How are we going to liquidate?’” Stacey recalled. “Not so much as a sorry about my dad. I thought, ‘I’ll show him.’”

Stacey and Sara admit there was tension among family members and a few employees about who would take over the business, but they soon settled on things and went to work. Stacey would be president, and Sara vice president.

Nothing is easy running a business. While this story has a happy ending in that Bales Metal Surface Solutions is doing very well — and Stacey and Sara took home a much-deserved award — don’t think for a minute that they wouldn’t trade having Steve back in their lives doing what he did best.

While Steve made Bales what it was for more than 30 years, the last few years have been all about Stacey and Sara, and the jobs they have done in one of the most difficult times in corporate America, let alone the plating industry. They took over during a recession—it was very, very bad then, remember? —and they have thrived on brains, fortitude and desire.

“It took about two years to get things in order after our dad passed,” Sara said. “But we’ve committed ourselves and this company to do really doing well and service our customers.”

The company recently rebranded itself as Bales Metal Surface Solutions and hired a marketing firm to design a new logo, website and identity. It’s not something most finishing companies do, but then again Stacey and Sara are not your typical shop owners. When others in the business world didn’t want to show them respect, they worked to earn it. When some thought they couldn’t pull it off, they exceeded expectations.

“I go to networking events all the time, and you’ll meet someone standing in the corner and they’ll complain about how sales are down, and business is slow,” Stacey said. “I’ll think, ‘Do something about it.’ Market yourself. Don’t give up.”

Stacey and Sara did something, alright, and they did it during some of their darkest days. We are sure Steve is proud of them, and they both laugh thinking what he would say about what they have done with the company.

Somewhere along the line the Bales Boys became known as the Bales Girls.